Earlier this year Stars and Stripes, the independent newspaper to the military community, reported the number of young male veterans (under 30) saw a 44 percent increase in suicides. A total of 22 veterans a day takes their own lives. Reasons for the increase could be the pressures of leaving military careers, readjusting to civilian life while trying to find a job, lack of civilian work experience and combat injuries like post-traumatic stress. In addition, the unemployment rate of veterans is 2 percent higher than the national average. And to add to the pressure, 90 percent of military spouses are underemployed and earn 38 percent less than their civilian counterparts, while also being 30 percent more likely to be unemployed.
On top of all of this 57,849 veterans are homeless on any given night according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Breaking that down further, 12 percent of the adult homeless population are veterans. Forty percent of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 10.4 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively, of the U.S. veteran population. Our homeless veterans have served in World War ll, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Persian Gulf Wars, Afghanistan and Iraq. Another 1.4 million veterans are considered at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.
How did we let all this happen to the heroes who keep us the freest country on earth? Most of our citizens join the military because of their pride for this country and they want to give back while doing an honorable job. No matter the generation or the war, from Concord to Kabul, America's military has always been determined, tough and proud to do their duty. These fighters are sustained by not only the bonds shared within their units, but the love and strength they draw from those at home -- their families, their spouses, their children, their parents and their community. It is time for their community to embrace them.
The month of May is full of celebrations honoring our military. May 1 is "Loyalty Day," which started in the 1920s because the rise of Communism was being feared and Loyalty Day was intended to counter this, where we are to take a moment to appreciate our armed forces who are displaying the ultimate in loyalty. Congress made this an official holiday in 1958. May 8 is V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day) which commemorates the end of fighting in Europe during WW ll. Military Spouses Day (the 9th this year) is always held on the Friday before Mother's Day. Armed Forces Day, which was created to honor all branches of the service, was proclaimed in 1950 by President Truman and is celebrated the third Saturday in May (the 17th this year). And the month ends with Memorial Day, celebrated on the last Monday of May (the 26th this year), which is dedicated to service men and women who gave their lives for freedom and for our country. The roots of Memorial Day go back to 1865 and the end of the Civil War.
So how can we as communities do more than just celebrate, and really help and embrace our veterans so the transition from military life to civilian life is not as painful? Obviously if you own a business, you can make a real effort to hire veterans. Or if you are not an employer, you can still help by donating to the non-profit organization Hire Heroes who are military veterans dedicated to "creating job opportunities for U.S. military veterans and their spouses." Another great organization to donate to is Welcome Back Veterans, which was created to help returning veterans and their families. One of my favorites is Soldier's Angels and you can donate directly on their site or through their Wish List. And at DollarDays on our Facebook page, we are giving away $5,000 in products to needy military families, so make sure you nominate someone you know today.
These veterans are our friends, our family and the bravest in our communities. These are men and women who sacrificed everything for us. Shouldn't we do the same for them?